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Pressing the Pass

WorldNetDaily declares war on the group that gives out congressional press passes.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/22/2002

The battle between WorldNetDaily and the Senate Press Gallery over WND's attempt to obtain permanent congressional press credentials has turned into a full-scale war.

Tired of what WND editor Joseph Farah has called "an unnecessary runaround of 18 months," WND has launched an assault on the Senate panel which controls the passes. Farah has upped the ante from encouraging readers to e-mail members of the committee to e-mailing the committee members' bosses in Congress and the news organizations they work for.

WND's coverage of itself and this issue, though, demonstrates perfectly in a nutshell the WND way of slanting a story -- not to mention showing the panel's reticence in awarding that permanent pass in the first place.

Make no mistake -- WND's reporting on the issue is decidedly slanted, as one might expect in covering an issue so close to its interests. It also borders on intimidation, as demonstrated by an Aug. 21 story in which one of the members of the committee is accused of lacking proper journalistic credentials.

The coverage also gets a bit weird. Here's an excerpt from an Aug. 8 WorldNetDaily story on the issue:

WND Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry – a previously credentialed member of the daily Senate Press Gallery, as Washington bureau chief of Investor's Business Daily – used the temporary pass and provided proof to the committee at the same hearing, even though the issue was academic to the main issue of the hearing, which focused on accrediting WND as a news organization, according to WND counsel Richard Ackerman.

In fact, Torry looked Sperry's way as he held up one of the date-stamped passes the press gallery provided him, Ackerman notes.

No, the excerpt itself is not extrordinary, except for noting the person whose byline is on the story: Paul Sperry. That's right -- Sperry is describing his own actions and atributing the description to someone else.

What is Sperry doing writing these stories, anyway? Last time we checked the prevailing standards of journalism, a journalist writing a news story about a subject he/she has a personal involvement in was frowned upon. Sperry's personal involvement here is that he is the one who will get the permanent press pass if it is granted; not only he has testified before the committee granting it, the temporary press pass he has been using has become an issue. (The majority of earlier stories on this issue have WND managing editor David Kupelian's byline on them; there are a couple of unbylined stories in there, and it would probably not be incorrect to assume they were written by Sperry.)

That, as the above example indicates, leads to the minor entertainment of how Sperry treats himself in his stories. In a June 7 story, he describes himself as "this reporter"; in an Aug. 14 story, he fails to give himself a first reference, and all there is is a quote that discusses "Mr. Sperry."

We think this is an improvement over rewriting press releases, but we're not sure.

WND's traditional biases -- which, by extension, are Paul Sperry's biases, important because he's now the lead reporter on this story -- creep in as well. In an Aug. 20 Sperry story which accuses a Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington, of "misleading constituents about's press-pass case," the better part of five paragraphs are devoted to detailing Cantwell's association with fellow senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- which is completely irrelevant to the press-pass question. The only possible reason for Sperry to include it is to inflame the normal WND reading constituency into associating the Clintons with all of this, since conservatives tend to believe that anything bad must the fault of a Clinton.

It's not as if the Senate Press Gallery hasn't noticed all this. An evaluation of WND by one member of the committee (the same one whose journalistic credentials WND is questioning) are replete, WND complains, with "references to stories about 'conservatism,' 'Larry Klayman,' 'conspiracism,' 'the New Right,' 'conservative bent,' 'culture war,' 'Judicial Watch,' 'Bill Clinton,' 'Vince Foster,' 'Richard Mellon Scaife' and other references to what the media elite commonly associate with former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's alleged 'vast right-wing conspiracy.'" All of this "appears to have been designed to cast WND in an ultra-conservative light," Sperry writes.

Yup. Sounds lilke a fairly accurate description of the bulk of WND's original content. And WND doesn't exactly make an effort to refute it. So what's the problem?

The problem is that WND still fancies itself an "independent" news site. "They (the Senate Press Gallery) don't like that we have such a large audience and provide readers with truly independent investigative reporting. They don't like that we have no sacred cows. They don't like that we are anti-establishment in our approach. They don't like our content," Farah declares in an Aug. 21 column. Which, of course, is mostly bluster. One need not go much further than the WND Speakers Bureau to find a list of sacred cows, and we'll believe WND is "truly independent" when it, for starters, details the many documented inaccuracies of the Ann Coulter book it's selling autographed copies of.

Farah goes on to complain that the committee demanding more information about WND's relationship with the Western Journalism Center, the group co-founded by Farah from which WND sprang. It's none of their business, he states. What would be more revealing to learn is who put up the $4.5 million in seed money to start WND, the names of whom Farah refuses to disclose. If Farah is so proud of WND and its success, what's wrong with revealing who the money is behind it? (Especially since he has in the past made a point of noting the political leanings of investors in other Web news sites.)

But, alas, for all its bluster, WND has a point. The Senate Press Gallery appears to have no set standards for granting a permanent press pass, and there appears to be no good reason for WND to be denied one. After all, as Farah has pointed out, the gallery has given permanent credentials to "official government mouthpieces such as Egypt's Al-Ahram and China's Xinhua News Agency."

WND hasn't shown much more interest in journalistic objectivity and balance than those two places. But bias and lack of balance (and did we mention lousy reporting?) won't keep WND from waging its war; one could sucessfully argue that bias and lack of balance are indeed necessary to be a successful war combatant.

So, just give 'em their press pass already. There are a lot of crappy journalists covering Congress, and as WND appears bound and determined to prove, what's one more?

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